Cancer rate probe near toxic dump ‘likely’

AN INVESTIGATION into cancer rates in the area affected by the Haulbowline pollution crisis is likely, Environment Minister John Gormley has told TDs.

Under fire for his handling of the Cork harbour health scare, the Green minister said he would press for such a move at cabinet after fears raised by opposition parties.

Fine Gael TD David Stanton raised the spectre of high cancer levels in the area. “Is the minister aware of the National Cancer Registry report which indicates that when rates for the Cobh urban area were compared to Ireland at large, incidence of cancer in Cobh was 44% higher than what might have been expected?

“Does he agree that this is very serious and worrying?” he asked.

Mr Gormley said a danger analysis of the former Irish Steel site would take five weeks and lead to a comprehensive action plan to deal with the implications of the pollution “I am not an expert on cancer rates. I am not a medical doctor and I do not profess to have great knowledge in this area. Certainly, a baseline study is to be recommended and I will go to cabinet with that,” he said in reply to Mr Stanton.

Fine Gael health spokesman James Reilly said the consequences of the pollution were immense.

“This is probably one of the greatest public health issues we have encountered in the lifetime of this Dáil,” he said. Mr Gormley said it was “unthinkable” the contractor originally given the task of cleaning-up the area would be allowed back on site. The minister said it would be the autumn before he would be in a position to seek cabinet approval for an action plan after the five-week danger analysis of the site.

Labour TD Ciarán Lynch rounded on the minister for waiting a week since the pollution crisis was exposed by the Irish Examiner before setting out a plan to deal with it. “Last Thursday, given that the minister was in Cork, he should have got into his ministerial car and travelled to the site, phoned the county manager, met the chief executive officer of the Environmental Protection Agency and begun to work on an action plan. He should not enter the Dáil a week later and state steps are beginning to be taken,” said the Labour TD.

Mr Gormley was accused of trying to “side-track” critics when he attacked the role of a subcontractor at the site. “Despite repeated instructions to stop unauthorised works related to the sub-surface waste, including by letter from the chief state solicitor on May 23, 2008, the sub-contractor refused to leave the site and continued to operate without authorisation and in a piecemeal fashion, causing a potential threat to the environment,” said Mr Gormley.

Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney expressed outrage that mercury levels on a beach near the site had been allowed to reach 28 times the level when intervention is recommended.

Labour’s Kathleen Lynch warned people in Cork needed to be reassured they and their children will be protected from the consequences of the toxic waste at the site. Sinn Féin Arthur Morgan hit out at what he called a deliberate lack of official information.

Cancer rates

NATIONAL Cancer Registry figures show the town of Cobh has a 44% higher incidence of cancer than the expected national average.

Carrigaline was only 6% above the national rate. Cobh rural area was 19% less than the expected national average and, overall, the Cork Harbour area had a 16% higher cancer rate than would have been expected nationally.

Monkstown urban area was 16% higher while Monkstown rural area was 21% lower than the national average. Between 1994 and 2005 there were 372 diagnosed cancers in the Cobh urban area.

The study, which tracked the cancer figures for the Cork harbour area from 1994 to 2005, points out the incidence of cancer is linked to social and economic status, and while urban Cobh has a high cancer incidence, it also has a high deprivation score.

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